This Article is From Mar 05, 2010

British plane-spotters to walk free

New Delhi: Two Britishers, accused of illegally recording conversations between pilots and Air Traffic Control, were on Friday allowed to walk free by a Delhi court after paying a fine of Rs 25,000 each.

Stephen Hampston (46) and Steve Martin (55), who were looking calm and composed, admitted their guilt before the court but claimed that they were ignorant of penal consequences of their plane-spotting hobby in this country.

Rajeev Awasthi, counsel for the accused, pleaded that they be permitted to leave the country as nothing incriminating has been found against them by various investigative agencies.

Accepting the plea-bargaining applications of the Britons, the court asked them to deposit a fine of Rs 25,000 each.

The court also asked Delhi police to take requisite steps for returning their laptops, which were seized at the time of their arrest, after scrutinising the contents.

The Britons, who are employed with Railways in UK, were confined to Radisson Hotel near the international airport in New Delhi on February 15 after hotel staff reported to police that they were indulging in "suspicious activities".

Earlier, the court had granted bail to Hampston and Martin on furnishing a personal bond and a surety bond of Rs 10,000 each and asked them not to leave the country without its permission.

The Delhi police had booked the Britons under the Indian Telegraph Act for allegedly recording the conversation between pilots and Air Traffic Control.

A case under Section 20 (read with Section four) of Telegraph Act under was registered against them under which a person can be sentenced to serve a prison term of up to three years, or slapped with a fine extending to up to Rs 1,000, or both. The offence comes under bailable and non-cognisable offences.

According to Section 20 of Telegraph Act, if any person establishes, maintains or works a telegraph within the country in contravention of the provisions of Section 4, which allows only licenced ones to establish, maintain or work a telegraph, be it on ships and aircraft, it is a punishable offence.

Hi-tech equipment used for recording conversation between the ATC and the pilot, besides a high-power binocular, was recovered from the possession of Hampston and Martin.

The duo claimed that plane spotting was their hobby. Plane spotting is described as observation and logging of registration numbers of gliders, powered aircraft, balloons, airships, helicopters and microlights.